Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What I'm Watching: Mid-Season Finaaaaaaaaallllllle

I’ve probably said this before, but I find the idea of the mid-season finale to be a little odd.


I remember being a kid, and your show was on, or it was not on.  And sometimes it was new, and sometimes it was a rerun, in which case you’d watch it if you missed it last time.  (Though we rarely did in my house, because my dad is way into technology and so we owned two VCRs.)




So now, there’s this big buildup, and you can tell that showrunners are working really hard to go out on a high, but realistically?


Timing things on TV is just about impossible.


Because schedules shift.  And shows move.  And so a show that was going out on episode nine suddenly goes out on episode eight.  Or a spot needs to be filled because another show failed, and storylines get bumped around.


Or the network wants a particular episode to happen on THIS date instead of THAT date, so some editing is done and the episode that made sense before now only sorta makes sense.


We’re now two weeks away from the end of the year, and every TV show (or just about every TV show) has tossed what it had to toss at us, and here’s where I’m at with what I’ve been keeping up with.


The Sing-Off


Much like American Idol, this one was forced on me by my wife because she knew someone in the competition.


At this point, we’ve gone through three AI cycles and I’ve come out with exactly one musical artist I felt like following – Phillip Phillips.  And even though I like the guy well enough, I’m not sure if I’ll pick up his second record when it comes out.


By contrast, the last winner of The Sing-Off?  Pentatonix.  And I’ll buy EVERYTHING they put out.


(I want to give their newest release, PTX Volume 2, a full review at some point.  But for now, the thumbnail is this: It’s great.  Everything they needed to fix on the first go-round got fixed.  If you like them at all, buy it now.)


Pentatonix, along with The Little Movie That Could, Pitch Perfect, brought The Sing-Off back from the dead after a poorly-rated third season.  And from what I can tell, the show is putting up decent numbers.


Not great, but decent.


And I hate to say it, but I suspect that’s at least in part because the show isn’t quite as good this time around.  The problem with the premise is that we’re not dealing with individual people, but a collective that’s at least five and sometimes almost 20 people strong. 


There are, you can tell, millions of people auditioning for Idol.  But I’m guessing there are 100 groups across the country trying to get on The Sing-Off.  Maybe less.  (Maybe more.  But I kind of doubt it.)


And even these best of the best groups are often good, but not VERY good. 


I remember watching last season, and right after Pentatonix sang I looked at my wife and said, “I think they could take it.”  (Ultimately, it came down to the three groups I thought it would.)


And this season, again, there’s a group that’s far out ahead of the pack, in Home Free. 


But the thing of it is, they’re already a working band, doing more than 200 shows a year.  This is what they do for a living.  They’ve put out multiple albums, all of which you can pick up on iTunes or Amazon right now.


The group is, ultimately, on the show to get some more exposure, and they’re getting that.  The probably want to go from working county fairs to working BIGGER county fairs.  And that’s about as far as I think they’re going to get.


But I don’t think they’ll become the next Pentatonix.


I think that’s an inherent flaw in The Sing-Off, and what killed it last time.  It’s got a strong gimmick, inasmuch as there are no bands, only voices.  But unless there’s something more to bring to the table (Pentatonix, with their seemingly impossible remixes and breakdowns, has that in spades) the only thing you offer is a lack of band.


And it’s fun to watch, but it doesn’t sell records.


I think, given the holiday season, that The Sing-Off is doing well, though it’s losing out to other “real” shows.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this came back, since it’s probably not terribly expesive to produce.


But I do wonder how many really good a cappella bands are left.


The Walking Dead


The mid-season finale brought us to one of the most brutal moments in all of comics-dom, wherein Rick lost his wife and baby in a massive shoot-out with the Governor and his crew.


And it ended… roughly the same way.


This was mostly handled with the “vanishing” of the baby, which they tried to make appear as if a zombie got her.  But there were a lot of folks running away, getting on buses, and scampering off at the end of the episode, and I’m about 98% sure that we’ll find out that the baby is just fine come spring.


People love to talk about how Walking Dead loves to kill off characters, but I must to continue to reiterate the truth – they don’t have the guts to go all the way and really make it hurt.


Harry Potter had that same problem.  Someone of “note” was finally killed in book five, after hundreds of pages of build-up, and to be honest, my reaction was, “Meh.”  They took out a second tier character, and really he was perhaps even a third-tier, and then tried to pass it off as sad because of a first-tier connection.


By the time we got to book six, and iced someone of real importance, it was, in my estimation, too little, too late.


And that’s the continual issue with The Walking Dead.  Yeah, we’re losing redshirts semi-regularly, but those are redshirts.  Yes, we lose other characters from time to time, but if the guys running the shows are following social media at all, they know in their hearts that they’re getting rid of characters almost no one actually likes.  (The mom, for example.)


I think before next year hits it’s time for whoever is running the show to sit down with the box sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and really understand that death only matters if people are interested in your characters. 


And a lot of the time, they aren’t really pulling that off.


On the bright side, however, they really took a grenade to the central stories of the season, and gave us what might have been a season finale halfway through the season.  There’s a real possibility for taking major chances now. 


I hope they use it.


Agents of SHIELD


I’ve covered this before, and I think I’ll do it again and be done.


I wish that critics would stop trying to fix this show.


I’m not saying the show is perfect, but I’ve grown tired of the scads of digital ink being flung all over this show in an attempt to improve it.


Let us pause and consider something for a minute.


Recently, a Thor movie came out.  It came in at a cost of 170 million dollars and ran for two hours.


Agents, on the other hand, will probably run for 22 hours this season.  (15.5 hours, if you take out commercials, I suppose.)


If they’re lucky, and they probably aren’t, they’re getting 8 million dollars to turn out each episode.  If that’s the case, the yearly budget is about 176 million.


And I think those number are just close enough to make my point – Agents has to fill almost 8 times the amount of screen time for the same budget as Thor.  And they have to do it faster.


I don’t know that George RR Martin is right about everything, but he nailed it a couple of years ago when he said the problem with television is that it looks like a movie now.  It’s in wide screen, it’s high definition, and they can’t really cut the corners they used to and get away with it.


And unlike Thor, which had a pretty iffy plot, but spectacular action, well, they can’t get through every week just by adding people punching other people in the face.


The fact is, yeah, Agents is still working on finding its feet.  It had storylines that started that have to be worked through now, and some of them are interesting to people, and some aren’t. 


But what people forget is that the show was built with a ton of masters, all of which must be served.  ABC wants the show to tie-in to the movies, and so we get little scenes that we have to pretend are germane to the films. 


Geeks want all their classic heroes and villains to show up, many of which are just plain too expensive to pull off.


And non-geeks who like the movies and the movies alone don’t want to get bogged down by storylines featuring obscure characters they’ve never heard of.


People keep talking about Arrow as being the better show, but, well, look.  It’s on the CW.  If it put up the numbers it was putting up anywhere else, the show would have been scrap-heaped roughly two episodes in.


And the show has “Agents” in the title, which means it was always going to be a team thing, and not just one guy you have to meet and root for.  You can only cram so much character development for everyone in each episode before they just implode on themselves.


The show has been swapping characters out and trying to build everyone a piece at a time.  It’s a slow burn, and yeah, I wish it would hurry up just a touch.


But the fact is, I have FUN every week when I’m watching.  I smile through the episodes.  I laugh at the jokes.  I enjoy myself.  And at this point, it’s probably my wife’s very favorite show.  She asks for new episodes on days the show doesn’t even air.


It’ll get there, everyone.  Give it time.  Enjoy.   It’ll get there.


The Originals:


Speaking of shows and retooling.


I’m just about caught up with this one now – two episodes to go and we’re caught up and ready to rock and/or roll when the show comes back.


And much like Agents, this one was a slow burn.  Plots were being set up, rivalries put in place, character dynamics configured…


At which point the show knew it had some flaws.  So it dropped a grenade on everything.


Not everything-everything, you understand.  But the original (ahem) plotline was pretty just-okay – Klaus tries to take the city back as his own.


The, week by week, we met new people, added new dynamics, and the show scrambled to try to gain traction. 


And then they tossed a grenade in the works.


Actually, they dropped a few, grabbing all the character dynamics and, in a couple of episodes, upending them as much as they possibly could while still keeping the show the same show.  Good guys turned out to be not so good.  Bad guys turned out to be not so bad.


There are a lot of things as stake (heh, sorry) and there isn’t really a good way to resolve them where good guys win (because there aren’t many) and bad guys lose (though there are a lot of bad guys).


The show is intriguing, is the thing, and over the course of a couple of episodes I found myself going from mildly curious where things were headed to increasingly curious as to how they’re going to keep raising on the bar as these conflicts come to a head.


I don’t know that this show will ever be as good as Vampire Diaries was during their best years.  But I’m hoping it can get close…




There are certain works of art you almost wish you could erase from your brain so you could see them all over again with fresh eyes.  And Supernatural?


Man, I’d kind of love to do that.


Here in the ninth year, it’s almost impossible for the show to really pull off any surprises.  Killing characters is almost passé now, because that’s unavoidable.


But then they pull out their mid-season finale.  And suddenly, all the little problems that have been building up over the course of this season come home to roost, and I found myself saying aloud, “Oh, THAT’S where they were going.”


And it was totally worth it.


I’ve got all of Supernatural on DVD, and someday, I really want to go back and experience it all again, just to watch all these stories unfold a second time.


If you haven’t, start now.  You’ve got so much greatness ahead of you.




Short and sweet:


This season is better than the last one.


I’m liking it, but not loving it.  There are glimpses of greatness that could be.


My wife is just not into it.


We still have a lot of catching up to do.


Overall, I think the biggest flaw is a lack of clear, interesting goals.  Taking out the new US government feels too big and vague.  Making it personal by threatening our main cast rarely works because the cast just isn’t all that interesting or well-liked.


So the show falters.


But it could still get good.  It could.


Modern Family:


Here’s the problem with this show: It just plain got too much love in its early days.


It has a lot of well-deserved Emmys, and that’s a fine thing.  But it has also painted a target on the show’s back, causing people to evaluate it with extreme prejudice. 


But ye cats, people.  The show has 12 characters in it, and it tries to service almost all of them every week.  It’s churning through plots at a breakneck pace, and all the things that felt fresh five years ago, well, yeah, they’re going to age somewhat as the show goes on.


I swear, some days critics are like toddlers.  All happy with their new toys right up until they start feeling just a little bit old and used up… and then it’s on to the new toy, which is SO much better than that old toy…


South Park:


Speaking of old toys, South Park came back after a long, long time off.  And it proved two things that don’t go together at all.  The first is that the show, after 200 episodes, has gotten ever more hit and miss over the years.


The second thing is that the hits are still there, and when they are, as in their George RR Martin mockery, the show is still capable of making you go, “Well, that’s just… I didn’t… I did not ever see that coming.”


The Big Bang Theory:


I often state that I’m out of things to say when it comes to this show, and I suspect that might always be the case.


I feel like they’re really working on Sheldon this year, though, trying to take off some of the sharp edges they’ve created and note that, yes, he’s supposed to be a human being instead of a rudeness-centered joke machine.


Unfortunately, this has turned some of the other characters a bit more one-note, but they can fix that, right?  Amy is more than just a frustrated nerd in need of man-love, right?


The Vampire Diaries:


‘S funny.  Every time I figure they’re going to drag something out, they drop a bomb on it.  After a year of dealing with Silas, suddenly all that’s over and done with and the guy I figured would be the major villain this year is gone.


Which makes for mid-season weirdness, as now they’re setting up some new bad guys, and it feels like the start of the season all over again.


So, yeah.  Here’s hoping this fresh season-within-a-season is good.






Talk about your failure of a mid-season finale.


The rise and fall of Glee is one that kills me, more often than not.  Mostly because I remember that first season, that first episode, that first blush of TV that was fun, that was heartfelt and hopeful.


And now?


Let’s talk about the last two episodes.


The last episode?  They said it was a “lost” episode, just so they could jam in a Christmas special, even though it’s spring on the show.  Like their other Christmas episodes, it was a pretty mediocre affair with a couple of nice moments and some good songs.


But you can tell how far the show has fallen.  The previous three years have had really wonderful Christmas CDs, with extra not-in-the-episode songs, wonderful little performances, and a few lovely song-gems that were worth hearing whether you were a Glee fan or not.


But this year, it was an online-only thing, with Love Child thrown in there even though, really, what was the point, and only one real enjoyable song, Mary’s Boy Child, which was destroyed by girls in hot pants basically making the song weirdly uncomfortable.


The week before that, we had the puppet episode, wherein Blaine made a bunch of puppets, because there hadn’t been a puppet episode yet.


As I’m thinking about it, I’m realizing that I can’t think of anything “great” about this season.  The Finn episode was heartfelt, but all over the map and didn’t really offer the catharsis the show needed.  The various themed episodes (Beatles, Katy Perry/Lady Gaga/Billy Joel) feel like a desperate push to cram songs on the soundtrack.


And I can’t think of very many covers I want to own.  Marry the Night, maybe.  And the acoustic version of Wide Awake?


I wonder if the death that overhangs the show is what’s dragging it down, or if there’s just an absence of ideas at this point. 


Either way, the show still has a season and half of episodes ahead of it, and I’m starting to suspect even the writers don’t know how to fill them.



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